Lecture Notes: kimchi and the perils of international investment | Calendar | Chicago Reader

Lecture Notes: kimchi and the perils of international investment 

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"If I were a foreign businessman contemplating investing in the United States, I'd be real nervous," Marvin Zonis recently told WBEZ's Worldview. "This currency is really weak." In spite of his occasional tendency to lob such potentially seditious observations, Zonis, a University of Chicago political economist and highly regarded corporate political risk consultant, is no bomb thrower. His 2003 book, The Kimchi Matters: Global Business and Local Politics in a Crisis-Driven World, written with Dan Lefkovitz and Sam Wilkin, is a sort of travel guide for globe-trotting capitalists and policy wonks, and it has a pretty simple message: Watch where you're going. Using the Korean national dish of fermented cabbage as its central metaphor, the authors argue that each developing country is special, with its own unique set of social, economic, and political factors that must be understood before storming its beaches with Big Macs or marines. Their caveat seems obvious, but do we ever learn? Though the book was written before the war, Zonis says the ongoing instability in Iraq proves his point. They begin with an analysis of Microsoft's aborted penetration of South Korea--after underestimating the power of national pride in the country's written language--and proceed through the downfalls of scapegoating populists like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, the economic success stories of autocratic Singapore and underdog Botswana, and more. At press time Zonis was recovering from surgery in Florida but was committed to making it to the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington in Evanston, to discuss the book at 7:30 PM on Wednesday, February 11. In any case, Lefkovitz and Wilkin will be there. It's free; call 847-866-0300.

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